Kamakhya, Dakinis, and the Adivasi?

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Kamakhya, Dakinis, and the Adivasi?

Postby LionelChen » Thu May 09, 2013 6:28 pm

"There are so many dakinis and various kinds of demons and devils that even a person who has fully mastered the Tantras can hardly stay there."

So apparently wrote a Tibetan Tantric Buddhist around the 16th or17th century regarding a region of present-day Assam of critical importance to the Indian goddess Kamakhya. The rather cryptic phrase delivered by a guest lecturer some time back piqued my curiousity and I went off in search of just why that would be the case.....

...and landed me smack dab in the great "Where did Tantric Buddhism originate from?" debate that cycles through academic circles every so often. I've been consuming large amounts of data on the topic and in the process of trying to make sense of it all.

Would love to hear what anyone else has to say on the following matters:

1.) The Geographic Origins of Tantra?

I've always seen conflicting attempts to place the origins of Tantra (from a Hindu or Buddhist approach) out of either the Northwest near Swat/Pakistan, the South, or Bengal/Orissa.

Bengal/Orissa seems like a very strong contender at least from my understanding of things, due to the development of similar practices amongst all the non-Buddhist and heck non/attenuated versions of Brahmanism that seemed to dominate the area.

Was wondering if anyone might be able to offer up a little clarification - as to why all 3 regions would be good (or bad) candidates.

2.) Dakini Witches and the Adivasi


More of an ethnographic question, but while rooting around the religious culture of Bangladesh/Assam/et al., I've often seen the use of the word "dakini" in the context of what I guess correlates to some degree with the Western word "witch."

Many of the stories and legends I've read report social actions that pretty much fit the portrayal of dakinis as hanging around cremation grounds, ready to devour unwary travelers or bring them to enlightenment (or both). That or in the forests having a feast (like some of the Tantric literature portrays although I was always under the impression that the Tantric Buddhism was more an Urban movement).

I guess my question is has there ever been any attempt to connect/discover the ethnic identity of those who labeled as dakini in that pejorative sense?
I asked that of an Indian friend of mine who responded, “Meh.. its just the Adivasi.” Which doesn’t help much given that word denotes more of a category than a group.
Is it just a label that gets slapped on all the Dravidian groups still practicing their non-Brahmanical religious traditions at the time?
Is it all the ethnic groups who share the linguistic stem from the Munda language?

Is it the Dombi? (But then again, just who are the Dombi exactly? I’ve seen 3 different groups with no apparent ethnic ties labeled as such)


3.)And my final question – less an academic question (although I guess it could count as “field research”)

Has anyone actually visited that part of India (or Bangladesh) before? (I’m always on the other side of the country it seems).

Any further insights from your trip?
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Re: Kamakhya, Dakinis, and the Adivasi?

Postby Konchog1 » Thu May 09, 2013 9:43 pm

I find Dakinis very interesting. There are both enlightened and mundane Dakinis and both tend to be cruel, sexual, and very powerful. The only difference is that enlightened Dakinis have your best interest at heart, although they tend to be caustic about it (Luipa). People like Khambala ran afoul of mundane Dakinis. Also, when the founder of the Shangpa Kagyu (I forget his name at the moment) first met Niguma, she didn't act like he expected and so he had a terrifying moment where he thought she was mundane and expected her to eat him.

Are enlightened Dakinis simply Dakinis who attained Enlightenment or something more? If it's the former, why are they so important?

Excellent post Lionel, I will be watching this thread.
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Re: Kamakhya, Dakinis, and the Adivasi?

Postby Clarence » Thu May 09, 2013 10:35 pm

I have been to Kamakhya. It is a crazy power spot. I also saw a group of witches there walking in the streets. They acted very differently from normal Indian women. If you ever have the chance, visit. Beware for the animal sacrifices though. Not for the faint of heart and they run counter to Buddhist principles.
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Re: Kamakhya, Dakinis, and the Adivasi?

Postby LionelChen » Fri May 10, 2013 2:06 am

Konchog1 wrote:I find Dakinis very interesting. There are both enlightened and mundane Dakinis and both tend to be cruel, sexual, and very powerful. The only difference is that enlightened Dakinis have your best interest at heart, although they tend to be caustic about it (Luipa). People like Khambala ran afoul of mundane Dakinis. Also, when the founder of the Shangpa Kagyu (I forget his name at the moment) first met Niguma, she didn't act like he expected and so he had a terrifying moment where he thought she was mundane and expected her to eat him.

Are enlightened Dakinis simply Dakinis who attained Enlightenment or something more? If it's the former, why are they so important?

Excellent post Lionel, I will be watching this thread.


I'm pretty much fascinated by the topic for the reasons you've stated. There's monograph by the scholar Judith Simmer-Brown entitled Dakini's Warm Breathe which touches on the subject mentioned and the ambivalent nature of the dakini in Indo-Tibetan lore.

I tried scrounging around all the EA sources and the bits I could find emanate out of the Japanese Buddhist tradition. Following on Chinese precedents, Dakinis tend to be conflated/merged with the lore/myths regarding 狐狸精 huli jing/kitsune/fox spirits.

Most prominent bit I saw was the part regarding the worship of 荼枳尼天 / Dakini-ten, who is more an individual deity than a representation of dakinis as a class of entity. Of the top of my head, I believe the Japanese Emperor Go-toba attempted to invoke her aid against the Kamakura shogunate - although if memory serves me correct he was a patron of Tachikawa-ryu.

There is a commentary on the Mahavairocana (written by Yi Xing i think), which goes into some detail about Dakini-lore. I dimly recall that its been pretty much of the same - dangerous, mystical, "eat-you" mentality...servants of Mahakala..or was it Kali?

Well as you can guess/see, there's a lot about dakinis everywhere. So this thread is an attempt to try and get back to the source of it all. Although in terms of "source" i get pointed in three different directions!

Ron Davidson, i guess from the perspective of Western academia, mentions in Indian Esoteric Buddhism: A Social History that the word "dakini" (here separating from our understanding of enlightened and mundane dakinis) was a referrent to well...as i said before.. "Witches."

Maybe "shamanesses" would be a better word? In any event, he pegs Bengal/Assam which crosses into that whole Kamakhya bit i said above.
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Re: Kamakhya, Dakinis, and the Adivasi?

Postby LionelChen » Fri May 10, 2013 2:08 am

Clarence wrote:I have been to Kamakhya. It is a crazy power spot. I also saw a group of witches there walking in the streets. They acted very differently from normal Indian women. If you ever have the chance, visit. Beware for the animal sacrifices though. Not for the faint of heart and they run counter to Buddhist principles.


Care to elaborate Clarence?

A Hindu friend of mine told me its one of the Sakta Pithas, so Im guessing its holy to followers of Shakti of the Puranas as well.

But he also stated that the place kinda has a ......reputation... to put it lightly.
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Re: Kamakhya, Dakinis, and the Adivasi?

Postby Karma Dorje » Fri May 10, 2013 2:21 am

LionelChen wrote:
Clarence wrote:I have been to Kamakhya. It is a crazy power spot. I also saw a group of witches there walking in the streets. They acted very differently from normal Indian women. If you ever have the chance, visit. Beware for the animal sacrifices though. Not for the faint of heart and they run counter to Buddhist principles.


Care to elaborate Clarence?

A Hindu friend of mine told me its one of the Sakta Pithas, so Im guessing its holy to followers of Shakti of the Puranas as well.

But he also stated that the place kinda has a ......reputation... to put it lightly.


This is the place where the yoni fell when Vishnu cut up the corpse of Sati with Sudarshan. It has tremendous vasham shakti which attracts all sorts of beings, corporeal and otherwise.

I have meant to visit, but for many years the political situation was pretty violent and in the 90s when I was last in India it was pretty much off-limits to visitors.
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Re: Kamakhya, Dakinis, and the Adivasi?

Postby LionelChen » Fri May 10, 2013 5:58 am

Karma Dorje wrote:I have meant to visit, but for many years the political situation was pretty violent and in the 90s when I was last in India it was pretty much off-limits to visitors.


Oh do tell i'm rather curious - what political situation would you be referring to?

I've been scratching my head about what "Adivasi" group is supposed to inhabit the area...although i suspect times have changed a bit in the great tumults that have occurred in the India...
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Re: Kamakhya, Dakinis, and the Adivasi?

Postby Clarence » Fri May 10, 2013 8:09 am

LionelChen wrote:
Clarence wrote:I have been to Kamakhya. It is a crazy power spot. I also saw a group of witches there walking in the streets. They acted very differently from normal Indian women. If you ever have the chance, visit. Beware for the animal sacrifices though. Not for the faint of heart and they run counter to Buddhist principles.


Care to elaborate Clarence?

A Hindu friend of mine told me its one of the Sakta Pithas, so Im guessing its holy to followers of Shakti of the Puranas as well.

But he also stated that the place kinda has a ......reputation... to put it lightly.


Yeah, I practiced Sakti before practicing Buddhism. Kamakhya actually. Can't say much about the practice but in the temples you see goats heads and I was there at full moon and they offered a Bull. That was intense. The women walking the street were beckoning would be the best description. Further, meditation there is different from most other places in the world. Of course, there are more power spots but not many like that.
You can go into the ground, which is Kamakhya's temple, where there is a waterwell which represents the Yoni. Out of there sticks a rock (representing the clitoris) and once a year or so she bleeds. Having cloth dipped in the blood is considered especially sacred and very hard to get. Anyway, crazy cool stuff. Wish I could go back.
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Re: Kamakhya, Dakinis, and the Adivasi?

Postby LionelChen » Fri May 10, 2013 6:35 pm

Clarence wrote:
LionelChen wrote:
Clarence wrote:I have been to Kamakhya. It is a crazy power spot. I also saw a group of witches there walking in the streets. They acted very differently from normal Indian women. If you ever have the chance, visit. Beware for the animal sacrifices though. Not for the faint of heart and they run counter to Buddhist principles.


Care to elaborate Clarence?

A Hindu friend of mine told me its one of the Sakta Pithas, so Im guessing its holy to followers of Shakti of the Puranas as well.

But he also stated that the place kinda has a ......reputation... to put it lightly.


Yeah, I practiced Sakti before practicing Buddhism. Kamakhya actually. Can't say much about the practice but in the temples you see goats heads and I was there at full moon and they offered a Bull. That was intense. The women walking the street were beckoning would be the best description. Further, meditation there is different from most other places in the world. Of course, there are more power spots but not many like that.
You can go into the ground, which is Kamakhya's temple, where there is a waterwell which represents the Yoni. Out of there sticks a rock (representing the clitoris) and once a year or so she bleeds. Having cloth dipped in the blood is considered especially sacred and very hard to get. Anyway, crazy cool stuff. Wish I could go back.


Hmm.. sounds like not much has changed from what your describing vs. what folks have written about Kamakhya in the past.
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Re: Kamakhya, Dakinis, and the Adivasi?

Postby Clarence » Fri May 10, 2013 6:41 pm

True that.
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Re: Kamakhya, Dakinis, and the Adivasi?

Postby Adamantine » Fri May 10, 2013 7:30 pm

It sounds like a wild place. I am sure it would be just as charged, maybe more so, with out all the sacrifices. Those should have been outlawed by now in India.
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Re: Kamakhya, Dakinis, and the Adivasi?

Postby conebeckham » Fri May 10, 2013 7:58 pm

They probably are outlawed.

But, you know....it's India.

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Re: Kamakhya, Dakinis, and the Adivasi?

Postby LionelChen » Fri May 10, 2013 8:49 pm

conebeckham wrote:They probably are outlawed.

But, you know....it's India.

:smile:


Oh I can speak to that one... it actually varies from state to state. Fits the whole notion of Indian democracy.

They are some states like Andrha Pradesh where its business as usual in terms of animal sacrifices.

Then you have a place like Tamil Nadu where it is actually Banned....and no one seems to care that it is.
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Re: Kamakhya, Dakinis, and the Adivasi?

Postby LionelChen » Fri May 10, 2013 9:05 pm

Sadly it seems my secondary questions are dead in the water though.

In terms of the Dakini/Witch/Tribal People connection - I've found a few sources insisting that the folks Clarence and others have seen over at Kamakhya are in fact some group related to the Munda language users.

--> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Munda_languages

I think the connection was based on some interpretation regarding the meaning of "dakin."

And Yet.... I find another set of people pointing at the Dombari...or the Domba...or the Dom. However you wish to call them.

---> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domba

The argument from that end points to the preference Indian Tantrics expressed in having a Domba consort.

The literature seems to tie them to either Orissa or Swat.

Then there's Namkhai Norbu's statements about Tantra coming from Sri Lanka....... which places the "dakini" title in the hands of the Sri Lankans/Tamil nadu folk.

All very very confusing :(
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Re: Kamakhya, Dakinis, and the Adivasi?

Postby Adamantine » Fri May 10, 2013 10:22 pm

LionelChen wrote:Sadly it seems my secondary questions are dead in the water though.

In terms of the Dakini/Witch/Tribal People connection - I've found a few sources insisting that the folks Clarence and others have seen over at Kamakhya are in fact some group related to the Munda language users.

--> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Munda_languages

I think the connection was based on some interpretation regarding the meaning of "dakin."

And Yet.... I find another set of people pointing at the Dombari...or the Domba...or the Dom. However you wish to call them.

---> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domba

The argument from that end points to the preference Indian Tantrics expressed in having a Domba consort.

The literature seems to tie them to either Orissa or Swat.

Then there's Namkhai Norbu's statements about Tantra coming from Sri Lanka....... which places the "dakini" title in the hands of the Sri Lankans/Tamil nadu folk.

All very very confusing :(


"People identified as Doms have long been workers at cremation places, weavers of ropes and baskets. They are also traditionally well known for their musical ability. A medieval history describes the Dom community as a caste that makes its living from music."

Between work at cremation grounds and musical talent there seems to be some good basis for tantric proclivity. . .
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Re: Kamakhya, Dakinis, and the Adivasi?

Postby LionelChen » Fri May 10, 2013 11:04 pm

Adamantine wrote:"People identified as Doms have long been workers at cremation places, weavers of ropes and baskets. They are also traditionally well known for their musical ability. A medieval history describes the Dom community as a caste that makes its living from music."

Between work at cremation grounds and musical talent there seems to be some good basis for tantric proclivity. . .


Duly noted, but the other two populations have similar traits as well..

An aside: Out of curiosity (ie: bleed over from my interests in genetics), I tried pulling up their profile you might say. They are apparently co-indicated with the Romani/Rom - what folks in the West might call gypsies.

Interestingly enough though, except for that historical photo on Wikipedia, I can't find a single picture of the Domba as they are now.. Circa 21st century (or heck even 20th).

Found that rather odd given that every other Adivasi group seems quite well represented on the net.
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Re: Kamakhya, Dakinis, and the Adivasi?

Postby Adamantine » Sat May 11, 2013 2:51 am

LionelChen wrote:
Adamantine wrote:"People identified as Doms have long been workers at cremation places, weavers of ropes and baskets. They are also traditionally well known for their musical ability. A medieval history describes the Dom community as a caste that makes its living from music."

Between work at cremation grounds and musical talent there seems to be some good basis for tantric proclivity. . .


Duly noted, but the other two populations have similar traits as well..

An aside: Out of curiosity (ie: bleed over from my interests in genetics), I tried pulling up their profile you might say. They are apparently co-indicated with the Romani/Rom - what folks in the West might call gypsies.

Interestingly enough though, except for that historical photo on Wikipedia, I can't find a single picture of the Domba as they are now.. Circa 21st century (or heck even 20th).

Found that rather odd given that every other Adivasi group seems quite well represented on the net.


I meant this: "Between work at cremation grounds and musical talent there seems to be some good basis for tantric proclivity"

in relation to this: "the preference Indian Tantrics expressed in having a Domba consort". --Just to be clear!
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Re: Kamakhya, Dakinis, and the Adivasi?

Postby Karma Dorje » Sat May 11, 2013 3:23 am

Adamantine wrote:It sounds like a wild place. I am sure it would be just as charged, maybe more so, with out all the sacrifices. Those should have been outlawed by now in India.


Yes, our abattoirs here in the West are so much more civil in their treatment of animals...

As much as I abhor animal sacrifice, unless we are vegetarians we are surviving by killing animals directly. And anyone who has actually worked a field on a farm knows how many beings die to produce even vegetables or grains. I can't say that someone sacrificing an animal and eating it is any worse than someone who kills an animal on a production line by shocking it or shooting it and then slitting its neck. We've just become insulated from where our food comes from and the tremendous cruelty of modern farming practices.
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Re: Kamakhya, Dakinis, and the Adivasi?

Postby Konchog1 » Sat May 11, 2013 4:38 am

Karma Dorje wrote:
Adamantine wrote:It sounds like a wild place. I am sure it would be just as charged, maybe more so, with out all the sacrifices. Those should have been outlawed by now in India.


Yes, our abattoirs here in the West are so much more civil in their treatment of animals...

As much as I abhor animal sacrifice, unless we are vegetarians we are surviving by killing animals directly. And anyone who has actually worked a field on a farm knows how many beings die to produce even vegetables or grains. I can't say that someone sacrificing an animal and eating it is any worse than someone who kills an animal on a production line by shocking it or shooting it and then slitting its neck. We've just become insulated from where our food comes from and the tremendous cruelty of modern farming practices.
I'm not entirely sure I agree with you. Phabongkha Rinpoche says that karma is created like this:

Basis
Intention
*Recognition
*Motive
*Delusion
Deed
Final Step

In the case of murder: The basis is the target. The recognition is knowing them to be, in this case, an animal. The motive is the intent to kill. The delusion is one of the three poisons. The deed is the murder. The final step is the animal dying.

So all the steps are present for someone sacrificing an animal or for a butcher. But a farmer killing worms and the like by tilling his field and so forth would be missing the recognition, the motive, and the delusion.

Therefore, the farmer would not create any negative karma.
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Without attachment, self-liberating, like a snake in a knot.
Through the qualities of meditating in that way,
Mental obscurations are purified and the dharmakaya is attained."

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Re: Kamakhya, Dakinis, and the Adivasi?

Postby Adamantine » Sat May 11, 2013 10:35 am

Konchog1 wrote:
Karma Dorje wrote:
Adamantine wrote:It sounds like a wild place. I am sure it would be just as charged, maybe more so, with out all the sacrifices. Those should have been outlawed by now in India.


Yes, our abattoirs here in the West are so much more civil in their treatment of animals...

As much as I abhor animal sacrifice, unless we are vegetarians we are surviving by killing animals directly. And anyone who has actually worked a field on a farm knows how many beings die to produce even vegetables or grains. I can't say that someone sacrificing an animal and eating it is any worse than someone who kills an animal on a production line by shocking it or shooting it and then slitting its neck. We've just become insulated from where our food comes from and the tremendous cruelty of modern farming practices.
I'm not entirely sure I agree with you. Phabongkha Rinpoche says that karma is created like this:

Basis
Intention
*Recognition
*Motive
*Delusion
Deed
Final Step

In the case of murder: The basis is the target. The recognition is knowing them to be, in this case, an animal. The motive is the intent to kill. The delusion is one of the three poisons. The deed is the murder. The final step is the animal dying.

So all the steps are present for someone sacrificing an animal or for a butcher. But a farmer killing worms and the like by tilling his field and so forth would be missing the recognition, the motive, and the delusion.

Therefore, the farmer would not create any negative karma.


Right, and to paraphrase something Thinley Norbu Rinpoche said once when a very worried little kid asked him about accidentally stepping on a bug: when a bird is flying through the air with it's mouth open, and a bug accidentally flies into it's mouth-- there is no karma of killing on the part of the bird. That is the bug's own karma that led it to that circumstance.
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